Tragedy repeated

April 25, 2003

During the 1956 Suez crisis, Sir Pierson Dixon, then UK permanent representative at the United Nations, told the Eden government:

"It is quite out of the question to extract from the Security Council a good vote on a resolution designed to justify subsequent use of force, particularly force exerted by two nations without further reference to the UN."

Sir Gerald Fitzmaurice, the Foreign Office's senior legal adviser, concurred: "It is very difficult to get into the heads of people in this country that the Security Council is not an institution for settling disputes, or even for doing justice between nations, but an institution for preventing or stopping wars. The argument that by going to the Security Council we have done everything possible and that the Security Council having proved itself impotent, we are now justified in going ahead on our own may well appeal to public opinion but the argument is based on a misconception of the real functions of the Security Council."

Sir Gerald also noted that "under the Charter any preventative war initiated by a government on its own responsibility is aggression".

Lord McNair, ex-president of the International Court, agreed, telling the government "our intervention is illegal".

In 1953, Anthony Eden wrote a Cabinet memorandum saying: "In the second half of the 20th century we cannot hope to maintain our position in the Middle East by the methods of the last century. Our strategic purposes in the Middle East can no longer be served by arrangements that local nationalism will regard as military occupation by foreign troops."

After Eden overrode this by attacking Egypt, the British ambassador to Egypt predicted that the British and French could not continue their occupation indefinitely. They would have to leave again.

Sometimes history does repeat itself as tragedy.

Will Podmore
London E1

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